LRT Conversion of the SRT

Scarborough RTLast October, I wrote about the possibility of the SRT being converted to true LRT. Since that time, open houses dealing with the extension of the SRT had display panels that were showing only ICTS technology. However, at the open house held back on June 2, there was one question on the FAQ in the handout material that addressed the possibility of converting the line (see this post for the details).

Last week, Steve Munro had reported that there was a “SRT Conversion and Expansion project” that was mentioned on page 6 of the July Chief General Manager’s Report. Steve also reports today that city council today will deal with a couple of motions one of which reads:

City Council request the Toronto Transit Commission and Metrolinx to report back in November 2009 on a process to implement LRT Technology to match and work with Transit City, on the extension of the Scarborough Rapid Transit line, and request the conversion of the existing line between Kennedy and McCowan stations from its current I.C.T.S. Technology to LRT technology, matching the extension, consistent with Transit City.

I have expressed my support of this idea, both here and in written comments at a few open houses related to the SRT. The SRT was originally intended to be an LRT line, and we may finally see that happen. I have even suggested (both on this site and on Steve Munro’s site) that the funding that is in place will only be enough to extend an upgraded SRT to Sheppard, but would be enough to extend a converted line all the way to Malvern. This morning, TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster stated to council:

TTC now feels that LRT is the appropriate technology for the route and is working with Metrolinx to define the technology and scope for the Transit City projects generally.

The funding announced by Queen’s Park is not sufficient to carry the SRT north from Sheppard to Malvern.

This second statement backs up what I have suggested.

Before anyone complains that the conversion of the existing line will require it to be closed down for a significant amount of time, let me point out that this is something that will have to be done anyways as the alignment and elevation at Kennedy station will be changing. If this is planned out now, the conversion of the rest of the line will be done during that shut down period and may need little, if any, additional shut down time.

One thing I suspect will be an interesting factor in all of this is that this may open the discussion about track gauge for the Transit City system as a whole. For the most part, I have remained on the fence about whether Transit City lines should use TTC gauge (4′-10.875″) or standard gauge (4′-8.5″). The possibility of a western extension of the St. Clair streetcar route to Jane to make a connection with the future Jane LRT line and be able to share maintenance facilities, suggested that TTC gauge should be used.

As time and plans have progressed, it has been appearing more and  more that the Transit City network will not need to be connected to the streetcar network, notwithstanding Jane and St. Clair. Here is why I say this:

  • Transit City lines will be built to specs that will allow “off the shelf” LRVs to be used. This means that these LRVs will not be able to negotiate some of the curves on the legacy streetcar network, nor will they be able to handle the single blade switches. While vehicles for the legacy network will be able to traverse TC track (which would be needed for the St. Clair possibility mentioned), the opposite will not be possible for the most part.
  • It has been mentioned that Transit City LRVs will use 750 volt power, while the legacy system uses 600. It is more likely that a vehicle designed to operate at 750 volts will be able to operate at 600, than it is the other way around. This makes for the opposite situation as mentioned in the first point.
  • The ability to operate any of the city streetcars on Transit City lines may be hampered by the power pick-up method. The streetcar lines may continue to use trolley poles for many years and the Transit City lines may have overhead wiring that is not compatable with trolley poles. See the Trolley Pole and Pantographs page for more details.

So, if there is no underlying need to stick to TTC gauge, what are the benefits to switching to standard?

  • Possible lower vehicle costs. Low floor vehicles use wheel assemblies that are positioned with the gauge, which is more or less a custom feature. With older vehicles, the trucks can be replaced, or in some cases, just the wheel sets (solid wheel/axle assemblies).
  • Easier to borrow vehicles for test purposes. Instead of buying new vehicles sight unseen because they have to be customized, we can try vehicles made for other cities.
  • Interlining with other LRT operations. In the future, it is likely that Mississauga and York Region may implement LRT operations that would likely benefit from interlining operations. While these systems would likely adopt the same gauge as the TTC uses, what happens when they have similar operations further out? At this point in time, Hamilton is moving forward with an LRT study and Kitchener-Waterloo may be breaking ground in the near future. I know this is a long way off, but if standard gauge is used in these systems and the TTC uses their own gauge, followed by Mississauga, what happens if something develops in between that may benefit from connections?

The conversion of the SRT introduces another benefit of going with standard gauge for Transit City. As the SRT is already standard gauge, there will be no need to re-gauge the track as part of the conversion process. I would suspect that this might cut the cost of conversion by 10-15%.

3 Responses to “LRT Conversion of the SRT”

  1. Zweisystem Says:

    The use of ’standard gauge’ for the new LRT lines also give the possibility of TramTrain operation, track sharing with the main line railways.

    Cal’s comment: In theory, yes. Given the regulations regarding this, it’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

  2. Michael Forest Says:

    I am curious about the route design and trainset length if SRT is converted to light rail. While ICTS requires full grade separation, light rail allows more flexibility, but with trade-offs:

    1) They can use 2-car trainsets, run them very frequently between Kennedy and STC, and short-turn some of them at McCowan or at Centennial College. Past the short-turn facility, the rest of service can operate in street median, making it cheaper to build.

    Since a 2-car trainset of new LRVs will have roughly same capacity as a 4-car Mk I trainset, the total capacity will grow substantially compared to the existing SRT. SRT runs at about 3.5 min headways (no rolling stock to run more service, and no chance to order it as it is out of production). The converted line can probably run on 2-min headways with manual operation (30 trains per hour x 350 people = 10,500 pphpd). Automated operation at 90-s headywas would increase that to 14,000 pphpd.

    This design will be cost-effective, and ideal for operating branches (Malvern / the Zoo / McCowan North / …). However, capacity might become an issue if the ridership increases a lot in the future.

    Cal’s comment: Let me throw a wrench into your figures! The design for the SRT would involve making stations 90 metres, which would be long enough for a 4-car train of ART Mark-II cars (72 metres) or a 3-car train of LRVs. Even keeping the same head ways, this would provide a substantial increase in capacity.

    I would like to see the same alignment kept, though a connection at Sheppard would be needed. The amount of proposed tunneling could be reduced, allowing the line to be built at grade with ballasted tie construction. This alignment which would have no median placement anywhere will really demonstrate that LRT can provide service that can be called rapid where it is not necessary to spend the money to build a 30,000 pphpd subway system.

    As for branches, through service with the Eglinton Crosstown line will be easy for any LRV trainset (2 or 3 cars) as that line is being planned with 90 metre platforms. Anything branching along Sheppard will be limited to 2-car trains as that line will have 60 metre platforms. I could see the need for Kennedy to Malvern and Kennedy to Meadowvale branches, at least during rush hours, along with branches of the Sheppard line to the same destinations. While service along Sheppard doubling back to Scarborough Town Centre might be nice, it does seem a bit out of the way. Even so, it might be useful to have connections at Sheppard in all four quadrants to support any future needs.

    2) They can use 3-car trainsets, but still try to run them in the street median past the short-turn facility. Not sure whether this is feasible at all, and it will be definitely harder to build branches.

    However, if that design is feasible, it will provide higher capacity while still limiting the construction costs.

    A 3-car trainset is the practical upper limit for on-street/median operation. That said, the only line with median operation that will be built initially with 90 metre platforms will be the Eglinton Crosstown line. All others will be built with 60 metre platforms, though they could be extended later on if needed.

    3) If Option 2 is not feasible while Option 1 is rejected due to capacity concerns, then they will have to build LRT for long (3-car or even 4-car) trainsets with full grade separation for the whole length.

    That would result in the highest capacity, but higher construction cost (likely beyond 1.4 B) and no chance of branching. In fact, this option would cost about as match as ICTS. The only advantage of LRT would be commonality of the fleet and maintenance facilities with the rest of TC network.

    2-car and 3-car trainsets will provide all the capacity necessary. In fact, though the line will be built for it to handle 3-car trains throughout, only the stretch from Scarborough Town Centre to Kennedy is expected to require the use of 3-car the earliest, though usage patterns will resulting from the existence of other lines may change things.

    The bottom line, as has been pointed out before, conversion of the existing line to either LRT or ART Mark-II is close to the same price in dollars and time - LRT will take a little more of both. The big difference is in the extension of the line where the cost per kilometre will be substantially more for ART Mark-II. The $1.4 billion only gets you to Sheppard with Mark-II, while LRT will get you all the way to Malvern with that money.

  3. Michael Forest Says:

    I agree that there are good reasons to convert the line to LRT, even regardless to the branching options.

    Concerning the branching, your clarification allows to narrow down the list of options:

    1) I suspect that TTC will not operate a Kennedy - STC - Meadowvale - Zoo branch, since that would require use of 2-car trains and hence reduce capacity of the heavily used Kennedy - STC segment. For example, service on 2.5-min headways with all 3-car trains would provide capacity of 12,600 pphpd, but if every second train has 2 cars only, it drops to 10,500 pphpd.

    Cal’s comment: I know we’re just tossing around possibilities at the moment, and some would argue that the TTC will avoid interlining and branching like the plague, but I wouldn’t rule out the idea. Currently, 2-car trains can easily match current capacity with closer head ways, so the need for 3-car train operation is still in the future. Furthermore, the demand that will need the 3-car trains will likely be only during rush hours, and most of this would be south of STC, so a short-turn branch could provide this extra capacity where it is needed. Time will tell what usage patterns will develop, and service with appropriate branches can be put in place to provide that need.

    2) It is likely that they will short-turn 1/2 or 2/3 of S(L)RT trains at Sheppard or at Centennial College.

    3) They might split the Sheppard E line: Meadowvale - Zoo branch, and Malvern Centre branch. However, that requires more frequent service on Sheppard E line than once in 5 minutes (per the current plan).

    Perhaps, but if usage later dictated that a less frequent service was acceptable on Sheppard east of the SRT, exceptions could be made. On the other hand, if both the SRT and SELRT lines had branches to Malvern and Meadowvale, the resulting frequency would be close to equal on all segments.